DuWayne Gregory calls for open government, balanced budget

DuWayne Gregory, the presiding officer of the Suffolk DuWayne Gregory, the presiding officer of the Suffolk County Legislature, is shown in this undated photo at his office in Amityville. Photo Credit: Steven Sunshine

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DuWayne Gregory, the new presiding officer of the Suffolk County Legislature, is known as a voice for budget discipline and a consensus builder who doesn't shy away from politically divisive issues.

Gregory, a Democrat from Amityville, was selected by his caucus Friday as the first African-American to hold the leadership post. His term begins Jan. 2.

He instantly becomes one of Suffolk's central political figures as the county tries to claw out of a deficit recently pegged at $180 million.

"DuWayne is the right person to deal with our problems," Legis. Thomas Barraga (R-West Islip) said. "He is someone who listens carefully to both sides of the aisle. He can do business with anybody."

Gregory, 44, said his tenure in the post will be marked by tight fiscal management -- raising revenue without resorting to layoffs or cutting services.

He'll also push for greater transparency, exploring the possibility of televising legislative hearings. "I plan to put together a team to look at how we can be more accountable to constituents," he said Saturday.

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Born in the Bronx, Gregory was raised in Central Islip by his father, John, a World War II veteran who worked as an auto mechanic, and his mother, Birtie, a community health nurse.

Together, they earned enough to put their son through school. Gregory earned a degree in justice and public policy from North Carolina Wesleyan College, a private school.

In 1993, Gregory enlisted in the Army. He spent five years in the service, primarily as a legal assistant stationed in Fort Hood, Texas.

After leaving the Army as a first lieutenant, Gregory returned to Long Island. In 1999, he ran unsuccessfully for the legislature in the 17th District in Huntington Station, losing to Republican Paul Tonna by nearly 4,000 votes.

In 2000, Gregory was hired by the Town of Babylon as its citizen advocate, dealing with complaints ranging from potholes to snow removal. He recalled when a woman called to complain that a West Babylon supermarket had given her dollar bills with an odor so bad she had to wash them with fabric softener.

Gregory, who is married with four children from a previous relationship, later served as chief of staff to Democratic Legis. Elie Mystal.

When Mystal resigned amid allegations that he did not live in the 15th District, Gregory won a special election in 2008 and took over the seat.

In 2011, he won his own term, and in November, he was re-elected.

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Gregory's district has faced issues with gangs and gun violence. He sponsored a bill creating a gun-offender registry for those convicted of violent crimes, helped bring the ShotSpotter gunshot detection tool to Suffolk and opposed a plan to house homeless sex offenders in the district.

Gregory supported Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone's budget-minded effort to sell the John J. Foley Skilled Nursing Facility, although the deal fell through earlier this year.

Sondra Cochran, executive director of the nonprofit Wyandanch Community Development Corp., said Gregory often takes on issues unpopular outside the district, such as expanding affordable housing.

"DuWayne doesn't do what's best for his political career," Cochran said. "He does what's best for his community."

Gregory has served as majority leader for the past two years and currently chairs the legislature's Human Services, and Budget and Finance committees.

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He said his selection as the first black presiding officer is an indication of how far Suffolk has come.

"It sends a message that Suffolk County is an inclusive community and that there is no glass ceiling," he said.

Legis. William Spencer (D-Centerport) said it's telling that Gregory's race was irrelevant in his selection.

"He is the best legislator for the job who just happens to be black," Spencer said.

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